I'm very selective when it comes to promoting white papers. A white paper is a document often used as a marketing or sales tool in business. White papers are long-form content designed to promote a products or service which often use selected facts favorable to the company sponsoring the document. That use of "selected facts" bothers the natural-born scientist in me. However, every now and then you come across one of these papers that holds true, is well written, and by an author or analyst you respect. In this case, the document is written by Deane Barker for Movable Type and is titled, "Managing Content in the Transactional Application" (PDF).
If you haven't heard of Deane Barker, he is a founding partner in Blend Interactive, a content management consultancy based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Barker has been implementing web content management solutions for almost two decades. He is what I call a content management purist that lives and breathes this stuff not just in terms of "website" but also with structure, workflow, and architecture in mind. Through the years, every conversation I've had with Barker has provided me new insights which challenged me for the many days that followed our meeting.
Almost everything Deane Barker does, he does with intent and purpose. Which begs the question, why this white paper and why Movable Type? Barker's reply to my question:
So, I'm really excited about the resurgence of Movable Type. It's an affordable, stable decoupled CMS platform, that's Windows-friendly, and there frankly aren't a lot of those. MT installs easily, and is as flexible as all get-out -- between custom fields and their free-for-all templating, you can get data into and out of it about any way you want to. I love the idea of someone solving a complicated CMS problem with a system like this. It's a clean, flexible solution to a lot of thorny problems, not the least of which is the one I discuss in the paper.
All too often, we think of the CMS in terms of traditional websites where an editorial process is supported with presentation geared for marketing purposes. However, business information systems often need more from their CMS including a means that will help them handle data transactions. In this paper, Barker gives examples of data transaction "whether it be the transfer of money from one account to another, the registration of a user for an event, or the retrieval and display of the current weather conditions for the user’s city". Transactional applications are focused on the business process and data transactions.
So now that we understand the context, how does one utilize a content management system such as Movable Type to support transactional application requirements? According to Barker traditional CMSs that follow a "coupled" model are problematic. In his view the answer lies in content management systems that exist in a “decoupled” environment where the CMS exists apart from the production server. In this paper he presents how a decoupled solution for transactional applications can be found by utilizing Movable Type.
Part 1 of the paper discusses the problem of managed content in transactional applications. This is an overhead view of the problem domain, suitable for product managers. In Part 2, Barker discusses a specific set of technical challenges and solutions using Movable Type and the MT.Net library. This section is intended for developers or software engineers.
The paper also answers the questions:
- Why is managing content difficult in transactional applications?
- What solutions exist to manage this content?
- What challenges are presented when integrating managed content into a transactional application and how can they be overcome?
Even if you're not interested in Movable Type but a content management junkie having interest in learning more about transactional applications, this paper is worth your reading time. On the flip side, those interested in Movable Type will appreciate that this paper confirms what they suspected all along: Movable Type is up to the task of meeting a number of content and business requirements. No matter where you stand, this paper should help you consider how best to use Movable Type and other CMSs for business applications.